Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn in Michigan

As we say goodbye to summer today, here's what we have to look forward to...

Blues, Brews, and BBQ in St. Joseph

Saturday, September 19, was the date for the second annual Blues, Brews, and BBQ at the St. Joseph bandshell. D and I are big fans of blues and BBQ, and D's a big fan of brew. So we were really looking forward to this event!

The event ran from noon till 6pm. We were busy painting here at the condo and didn't make it over to the bandshell until about 5pm. That was a big mistake.

The music was still going strong and was very good. We heard Kevin Q and the Night Crew with Venitia Sekema. A real pleasure to listen to.

The bean bag toss competition was still happening... and it looked like a lot of fun!There was a good turnout for the event...And that was the problem!

The two vendors who were selling the BBQ were sold out of most everything by the time we got there :-( . D ended up with a 1/2 lb of BBQ chicken from Larks.
And I had a pulled chicken sandwich from Charlie's Piggin' N' Grinnin'.
Neither of us had eaten BBQ from these establishments before so we thought it would be a good opportunity to check them out. We both preferred the BBQ sauce at Larks which was tangy without a smokey taste. The sauce at Charlie's had too much bite for me (even though I was careful to use the mild rather than the hot sauce). My chicken was tough as shoe leather and had a good bit of grizzle and a couple small bones in it. No photos this time around. The food was definitely not something I want to remember.

I don't know where the "brew" was. I guess we missed that vendor.

We will probably go back to the Blues, Brews, and BBQ next year but we'll definitely get there earlier!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Official Last Weekend of Summer

In just 2 more days summer will be officially over and fall will be here. In St. Joseph, there have been signs of autumn for a few weeks now... a patch of bright red leaves on a tree here or there, a multitude of acorns on my back deck. Last weekend the weather was unseasonably warm here and we went swimming in the lake and the pool. This weekend, it's a different story.

There are still people on the beach, but they're having fun on the sand not in the water.
And the beach attire has changed in response to the cooler temperatures...

The outer lighthouse is having some work done on it before the weather makes it impossible to do so. This isn't seasonal maintenance but rather a much need face lift. Evidently it's leaning towards the lake and needs some mechanical adjustments and a fresh coat of paint.

Yesterday was the last day of business for the Dairy Korner. This soft-serve ice cream establishment in St. Joseph has been in business for 53 years. It closes each fall and reopens each spring. The closing date differs from year to year but this year it closed on this last official weekend of summer, last night as a matter of fact. We got our last cones of the season :-( . It will reopen March 1st, 2010. It's closing is yet another sign of the end of summer.

It's a time of transition, from warm summer days at the beach to cool autumn afternoons watching college football. And before we know it, we'll be having long cold winter evenings by the fire. This photo captures the transition perfectly. Looking back from the Silver Beach parking lot, we see the water cannons of the new Whirlpool Compass Fountain spraying the brave souls (kids) who still choose to frolic in it (70F) in the background, and in the foreground we see stacks of snow fencing that will be erected soon to cut down on the sand and snow that blow in off the lake.

Another summer season is gone and autumn has arrived. The Lake Michigan sunsets come much earlier now (before 8pm) but they're still just as beautiful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Perfect Late Summer Day...

Today is just the kind of day we saw too little of this summer, sunny, bright blue cloudless sky, and the temperature near 80F. A perfect late summer day. So rather than spending the day inside on the computer I decided to play hooky. K was totally up for the idea. And lucky for you, I took my camera along ;-)

My first stop was at Culver's for a chicken Caesar salad to-go. They really do make a great chicken Caesar salad... my favorite of the fast food places. Next stop was Lookout Park in St. Joseph. Lookout Park is located on Lakeshore Drive just south of Hilltop Rd. It's one of my favorite parks in the area. At lunch time, it's lots of people's favorite spot. The parking lot is often full with folks who like to eat lunch while looking out at beautiful Lake Michigan. During the summer there's a hot dog cart parked there during the weekday lunch hour but the cart wasn't there today, hence my stop at Culver's. I must tell you that this is no ordinary hot dog cart. The lady who runs it serves up one terrific roast beef sandwich with several choices in toppings. At $6.95 it isn't cheap, but it is delicious!

Anyway, back to the park. It has two different areas to park in and a green area that connects the two parking areas. The north parking lot area has a fence going across the length of the bluff and has many park benches and picnic tables. The south parking has no fence but you can't see the lake from your car. There is, however, a wheel chair ramp to a lookout area. Here is one view of Lake Michigan from the north parking lot.

Looking north from that spot you'll see...

And looking south (with Lake Michigan off on your right) you'll see...

I sat at a picnic table right next to the fence and gazed out at the beautiful blue water while I munched on my salad. K spent the time sniffing around the ground. The beautiful view was lost on him. When I finished eating, I took K for a stroll in the park before we got back in the truck and headed back to the condo.

I made a stop at the wonderful little (and I mean little!) produce stand I passed on the way.

We've stopped here many times during the summer to buy right-off-the-tree fruits and veggies grown within feet of the road. Fresh and delicious!

Here's what was for sale today.

Notice there is no one tending the cart? There is a container where you drop your money. Everything is sold on the honor system. That would never happen back home in metro Detroit but it's not at all uncommon here in Berrien County.

I came home with an acorn squash and a quart of peaches. The peaches looked so good I just couldn't wait to eat one. So I didn't. In fact, I sliced up two and ate them out on my deck.

My deck. Oh how I'll miss sitting out here when the nippy frost makes it uncomfortable! I'm sitting out here now and have been for an hour and a half, writing blog posts on my laptop. Would you like to see my little haven? OK. I'll give you a peak.

Here is a long view.

And here is close up view of my patio table along with my trusty writing companion, K.

Here is the view I see when I look up from my laptop.

Here's the view slightly to the right...

And here is the view slightly to the left.

Very woodsy!

When I look down, I can see my froggie friends hanging out by the lovely oak tree that grows up through my deck.

As I gaze around me I remember how this deck looked in the dead of winter when we bought this place. I looked out at all the trees and tried to imagine what kinds they might be and how very green it must be when the trees got their foliage. Now here it is the end of summer and I can identify many of the trees and fauna around me... oak, maple (silver and red), pine, willow, elm, ash, and dogwood. There are ferns galore and lots of what looks like grape vines only they don't have grapes. At the bottom of the ravine there is a little brook. Right now it sits silent but after a rain it babbles and chortles with glee.

Now I find myself wondering how this wooded area will look when mother nature paints it from her autumn palette in just a few weeks. I'm sure it will be splendid!

And did I mention the wild life here? Right now I'm looking at a cardinal on a tree branch off to my left. I can hear several other birds chirping in the trees but I can't immediately identify them.

There's not a day that goes by that I don't see chipmunks and squirrels here on the deck. They love the oak tree!

And not visible from my deck but in the field right next door to the condo complex we have a family of deer living. We see them every morning and evening when we take K over to do his thing.

We've also seen a momma turkey and her poults in the field. I don't have those pictures but D does!

And we haven't seen but we've been told about (and heard!) a family of coyotes living in the field too!

But all good things must come to an end and so must this blog post. The late afternoon brings out the mosquitos! So I'm heading inside now, preferring that to becoming their latest meal. It has been another wonderful day in St. Joseph and now I'll have it recorded to reflect on when old man winter comes knocking on the door.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Thirsty Perch, South Haven, MI

D and I took a drive up to South Haven for dinner last night. It was a pleasant thing to do on a Sunday evening. Most of the trees we saw along the drive were still green but we passed one patch surrounding a pond where all the leaves on the trees were dark red and brown.

We'd seen the sign for the Thirsty Perch restaurant on previous visits to South Haven. We made this trip specifically to dine there. The restaurant is on Broadway just north of Phoenix. Their sign is easy to see from the street.

The restaurant was almost empty when we got there about 6pm. I was a bit surprised that there weren't more diners on a Sunday evening but then it is past peak tourist season. Anyway, the restaurant was nicely appointed with an upscale urban feel to it. It had comfortable seating, soft but not dim lighting :-), and soothing lake colors.

The menu had much to choose from but it's evident they specialize in perch. I happen to love lake perch so this was a plus in my book.

I ordered my perch sauteed with broccoli and sweet potato mash as sides.

D, who isn't normally a fish fan, ordered perch too but got his deep fried.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our dinners. The fish was cooked perfectly. My sweet potatoes were tasty and tender. Only my broccoli left something to be desired. It wasn't warm enough.

The chalk board on the wall listed all of the NFL games scheduled that day and there were flat screen TVs behind the bar. We left before the Bears game came on but I'm guessing the place probably saw more patrons filter in by that time.

We skipped dessert this time around because I wanted to stop for a soft serve cone at the Dairy Korner (St. Joseph) on the way home. They will only be open a couple more weeks and I wanted to get one more cone in before they're closed for the season.

We drove by the waterfront to see the sunset before we left South Haven. When you love to photograph sunsets as much as I do, you become drawn to them like moths to a flame. And you pay attention to what time it is so as not to miss the magical event. The daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter. The sun set at 8pm last night. Just 8 weeks ago, in mid July, I was catching the sunset at 9:30!

I was struck by how barren the beach was. There were a handful of people strewn about the beach, mostly couples taking in the magic of a Lake Michigan sunset. The usual small crowd was out on the pier just beyond the lighthouse, waiting for the sunset too. I was remembering the beach as it was a month ago when we were there during the day, one of the few sunny, hot days this summer. The beach was so crowded we could hardly find a place to place our towels and chairs, and parking was a nightmare. How quiet and lonesome that same beach seemed in September!

We watched the sun go down and took our pictures. Then we made our way back to St. Joseph and got one more ice cream cone from the Dairy Korner. We're transitioning into autumn slowly but surely.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Labor Day Weekend in St Joseph

This was my first Labor Day weekend in St Joseph. I didn't quite know what to expect. Would people be crowding the beaches for a last hurrah? Or would they be off at the outlet mall in Michigan City buying back-to-school clothes? The weather was delightful, certainly warm enough to be swimming. But the red flags were flying on Silver Beach indicating rip currents.

We had a full house at the condo on Friday. D, C, L, & Jo arrived at various times and we all gathered around the dining room table for a pizza dinner before we headed off to the beach for family pictures. There hasn't been a Lake Michigan sunset that didn't dazzle me, and I've taken lots of pictures of sunsets over the last few months. But none of them were as fun to take or as dear to my heart as the ones we took on Friday night. The kids were in a (rare) cooperative mood and the pictures reflect that. We took the first batch out on the south pier and the second batch on Silver Beach. Lots of smiles, the sun was bright enough to get good pics (with a fill flash), and we even got the unexpected element too (ultralight came flying by). The zany pictures where the kids jumped and made funny expressions were the best, but they all came out good. I'm sure my kids don't understand this, but it was the best gift they could have given me (not that it was a gift-giving occasion). We topped the photo session off with a stop at the Chocolate Cafe and headed back to the condo. We watched "I Love You, Man" on DVD and called it a night.

Saturday D cooked breakfast and then C left for home. D, L, Jo, and I headed into town to the Farmer's Market so I could pick up some more maple syrup. Now that I've tasted the real thing I find I don't care so much for the major-label pancake syrups any more. We arrived on the bluff just as the Whirlpool Compass Fountain was being turned on for the first time!

I knew this was happening Saturday morning but I'd forgotten about it. There was a big crowd down on the flats surrounding the fountain pad and when the water sprayed forth you could hear the delighted cheers from the onlookers.

In a matter of a few seconds the kids ran into the spray with big grins on their faces. The newest fun center in town was open!

We walked along the bluff and stopped at several of the farmer's booths. I bought some syrup, peaches, nectarines, raspberries, and a luscious piece of peach pie. Yum!

Then we noticed that there were more booths than usual and a closer look revealed that it was an arts and crafts fair on the bluff. :-) I bought some glass bead earrings for my daughter and myself.

Then we found a vendor selling items with stones all around them. Quite different than anything I'd seen before. I bought a picture frame for the condo. One of the family pictures taken on the pier will go nicely in it. :-)

After our shopping on the bluff, we grabbed a quick lunch at the Chocolate Cafe (yes, they actually have good food there!). L and Jo wanted to go to the beach so we dropped them off there before D and I headed over to the Arboretum to check out the new boardwalk and see the sailboats in town for the Tri-State Regatta.

The Arboretum is a lovely place with sculptures and plantings all along it.

It winds it's way along the St. Joseph River from the railroad bridge to the Main Street bridge on the south side of the river. The sailboats participating in the Tri-State Regatta were moored all along the boardwalk.

It was fun to people watch as we walked... This gentleman was happily snoozing away in his hammock.

This youngster was enjoying the scenery from the bosun's chair.

And this couple were content to just sit on a swing and take it all in.

We picked up L and Jo and were back at the condo in time for the 3:30pm kick-off of the U of M vs Western Michigan Univ. football game which was broadcast on the Chicago ABC affiliate station. Yeah! It was a great game and Michigan won 31-7. Go Blue! While we watched the game, L and Jo went down to the outlet mall in Michigan City (so they went to the beach and shopping at the outlet mall, D and I did neither).

After the game was over and the shoppers returned with their finds, we all went for a late dinner at Port 412, a restaurant/bar that we hadn't been to before. It's a nice place, right on State Street in St. Joseph. It had the dark atmosphere you'd expect from a bar but none of the smoke and loud music that are customary. I suspect they have loud music at times but it wasn't being played while we were there for dinner :-) The service was very good and the food was much better than typical bar fare. Jo and I had chicken scallopini, L had a turkey burger, and D had an Asian chicken dish (can't remember the name). All were very happy with their dinners. We'll be back to Port 412!

D had to call the St. Joseph River Yacht Club (sponsors of the Tri-State Regatta) to find out what time the boats would be leaving port Sunday morning. We wanted to take pictures of course. I don't know why they didn't put that information on their web site, shame on them! D was told 8:30am would be a good time to arrive on the pier to see the boats depart so that's what we planned on.

Sunday morning wasn't the sunniest of mornings and there was a marine layer of fog/haze on the lake. But we managed to get some great pictures anyway. I don't know how many boats participated in the regatta but I know it was well over a hundred. They didn't all leave port at the same time but there was a steady stream of them for well over an hour.

Probably the most memorable sailboat was the Michela because of the two bagpipers playing Amazing Grace as she left port.

We also liked this boat because of the name ;-)

Just after we got to the pier we noticed a freighter offshore waiting for the regatta to leave so it could come into port.

And no sooner did the last of the sailboats leave it's mooring than the freighter made it's way into port.

A nice bonus for picture taking!

Finally it was time to bid the sailboats adieu and head back to the condo. Soon after we had a parting breakfast with L and Jo at the IHOP (Sophia's had too long a line), which was very good! Then we said our goodbyes to L and Jo and went back into town for the first of the month "Antiques on the Bluff" sale. We weren't able to attend this antique sale every month this spring and summer but we did attend most of them. We bought something for the condo every time and this weekend was no different. We came home with two tables for the living room and a chair for one of the guest bedrooms. I wasn't sure what I'd be able to find in the way of accessories when I bought this yellow, lilac, blue, and green, quilt last spring. But look, I managed to find a lilac side table and a yellow chair. I just love this sale!

By late afternoon Sunday, when everyone had gone including the sailboats, D and I were able to sit back and reflect on what a wonderful Labor Day weekend we'd had. The weekend wasn't over, in fact Labor Day itself hadn't arrived yet. But we needed to head back to Detroit and we had lots of good memories to take with us.